Analysis And Review Of Jonny Appleseed By Joshua Whitehead

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer


The novel, Jonny Appleseed brings to life the two-spirit/Indigiqueer Jonny. As a young Indigenous person Jonny leaves his reservation and moves to Winnipeg, working as a webcam boy to make a living. Jonny has one week to return to the reserve for his step-father’s funeral, where he’ll revisit his old life. Weaved into the story are memories of Jonny’s past, from his childhood to his life in Winnipeg. It’s a story of, love, perseverance, Indigenous life and teaching that all shape this raw genuine narrative.


One of the themes in Jonny Appleseed that is revisited many times is the significance of water. Water plays two roles in this novel. First it is a metaphor for cleansing and healing. Jonny recalls the baths he used to take with his mother when he was little, “My mother would wash us both with L’Oreal kids shampoo, […]. It was the shampoo that never burned my eyes, my mom assured me of that. ” (Whitehead, 2018, p. 67). The baths with his mother was a time for cleansing where Jonny wouldn’t have to think about other worries in his life, he could just focus on spending time with his mom. Water is again brought into the story when Jonny recalls going camping with Tias’ parents. Jonny and Tias spent hours at the beach in the water, messing around and having fun.

Again, being at the beach was a time for Jonny to forget about the other things in life and just enjoy his time, a time to heal his spirit with happiness. When thinking back to the streams on his reserve Jonny reflects, “Water was a mentor to me, a playmate” (Whitehead, 2018, p. 65). Jonny saw water as something to look up to that could help him, a mentor. Water is also a metaphor for Jonny’s fluid, two-spirit identity. Jonny’s mother tells him about a dream she had. She dreamed that she and Jonny happened upon native men spearfishing, none of them able to catch anything. When Jonny approaches them, they say its only for men. But when they let Jonny try to catch a fish, he succeeds. This dream represents the fact that Jonny, despite his identity, is just as capable as anyone else, that he isn’t less of a person. The pattern of colonialism and the Christian beliefs can be seen in the strong negative attitude in Jonny’s community towards people who aren’t obviously straight. Another theme in this book is the issue of gender roles. The idea of the necessity of hyper masculinity is often featured in the book. One of the instances is when Tias’ dad violently cuts his fingernail when he sees that they are painted. Another when Roger beats Jonny when he finds out Jonny danced with a boy, “‘Boys don’t’ – smack – ‘dance with’ – smack – ‘boys’ – smack. ” (Whitehead, 2018, p. 173). In both examples the colonial patrilineal norms are clearly ingrained in these men, causing them to believe that men should only ever act very masculine.


I really enjoyed this book, I found it to be engaging and profound. Whitehead was able to portray Jonny as gender fluid, indigenous, and a sex industry worker in a way that forces people to think about him as more than those attributes. The style of the book reflects indigenous knowledge and indigenous culture. The storyline of Jonny Apple seed isn’t linear. Although there is the main storyline of Jonny trying to get back to the reservation, there are also many flashbacks to previous parts of Jonny’s life intermingled into the main story line. This allows the reader to overtime learn more about the characters which adds to their depth. This book has a lot of connections to the teachings of the medicine wheel. The red quarter is for emotion. One of the great ways Joshua Whitehead conveys emotion is through the characters. All the characters in this novel have many distinct aspects to them. They have hope dreams regrets, and vulnerabilities. They are more than just their pain, or their traumas, they are dimensional. Because of the dimension in the characters it’s easy to become attached to the characters and their storylines. This makes the story more powerful for the reader. The next section of the medicine wheel is the mind. This is also the Elder stage of life. In the novel Jonny gets a lot of guidance and encouragement from his grandmother or kukum.

One of the things kukum teaches Jonny is about respecting animals, “‘Always respect the animal, […] and use everything if you’re going to kill one. They give their life for you, so you honor their entire body’” (Joshua Whitehead, 2018, p. 37). The teachings from the grandmother are not just applicable for Jonny, but they are applicable for everyone. It is important for us all to be aware of how we ae treating the planet and being conscious of not wasting things. Another section of the medicine wheel, the teaching of spirit, connects strongly to this storyline. Jonny’s spirit throughout his life is very resilient, despite the abuse and bullying he received for being different. He experiences pain but as he says in the novel: “I am my own best medicine”. Jonny’s spirit in this novel was very inspiring, despite what he’s been through he stayed this feature of light in the novel.


This book is incredibly well written. It portrays Jonny a boy who doesn’t identify in a typical manner according to most people, in a way that makes any reader empathize and connect with him. It deserves a five-star rating and I believe that is should be the top book for Turtle Island Reads. The story discusses not only Indigenous issues but also gender and sexual orientation issues. It would definitely spark conversations about these issues, the goal of the Turtle Island Reads. Overall, I think its a book that everyone should read because it brings these issues into a new light and gives people a sense of what it’s like to be and Indigiqueer person.


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